SURROUND PROCESSOR REVIEWS

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Michael Fremer Posted: Mar 13, 2014 8 comments

Audio Performance
Video Performance
Features
Ergonomics
Value
PRICE $6,500

AT A GLANCE
Plus
Superb sonics High build quality No widgets, gimmicks, or extraneous features
Minus
No widgets, gimmicks, or extraneous features Klunky OS, incomplete instructions, non-backlit remote

THE VERDICT
Krell’s aptly named, sonically sophisticated Foundation counters a foolish industry trend toward sacrificing sound quality for useless and/or redundant features.

We live in a bizarre world where automobile commercials tout peripheral accessories while omitting mention of engines, transmissions, and brakes. What’s more important: Stopping distance or voice-activated Bluetooth?

So it’s not surprising that in much of today’s home theater electronics, sound quality takes a backseat to features and widgets. Backseat? In some, sound quality doesn’t even go along for the ride.

Fred Manteghian Posted: Feb 06, 2014 8 comments

Audio Performance
Video Performance
Features
Ergonomics
Value
PRICE $1,095

AT A GLANCE
Plus
Fulfills your innermost audiophile aspirations
Simple operation
Excellent proprietary room EQ
Minus
Kiss your sweet analog sources goodbye
Feature-wise, it’s missing a lot more than the kitchen sink

THE VERDICT
You’ll easily get through your diet of high-def viewing and listening with this great-sounding surround processor that works without a hitch.

I couldn’t make the John Mayer concert in Hartford a few weeks ago, but I heard it was great. Best I can do is throw the Born and Raised CD into the tray and set the AVP-18 surround processor to one of the DSP modes that turns a studio album into a concert event in your living room. Let’s see, he was at the open-air under-cover Comcast theater which has really great sound from most seats, so nothing slap-echo-happy like the over-the-top Stadium or Theater modes. Ahh, Rock has just the right amount of reverb tail.

David Vaughn Posted: Jan 02, 2014 6 comments

CX-A5000 Surround Processor
Audio Performance
Video Performance
Features
Ergonomics
Value
MX-A5000 Amplifier
Performance
Features
Ergonomics
Value
PRICE CX-A5000, $3,000; MX-A5000, $3,000

AT A GLANCE
Plus
Audiophile pre/pro sound quality
Impeccable build quality
Apple AirPlay support
Minus
Amp performance merely competent
Limited network interface

THE VERDICT
Yamaha’s new pre/pro is a surefire contender, though its matching 11-channel amplifier wasn’t quite the same caliber.

If you’re in the market for a new AVR, you can spend countless hours researching all of the various manufacturers’ Websites and, when all is said and done, still have 20 or more models to choose from that have all the bells and whistles you want. The same can’t be said for the surround processor market, which is extremely limited by comparison.

Most companies offer only one model—if that—and it’s generally a reconstruction of their flagship AVR minus the amp section. Don’t expect a discounted price, though; with such a limited audience for pre/pros, you can expect to pay top dollar even when the amps are absent. That said, this isn’t such a bad deal because you can then choose an amplifier that mates well with your particular speakers. Furthermore, by having the electronically noisy amps in a separate enclosure, energized by their own dedicated power supply, you can theoretically enjoy improved audio quality. Of course, you also get an increased footprint in your rack with additional black boxes. The quest for audio nirvana certainly isn’t easy.

Michael Fremer Posted: Nov 27, 2013 6 comments
Audio Performance
Video Performance
Features
Ergonomics
Value
PRICE 2,000

AT A GLANCE
Plus
HDBaseT audio/video via CAT5e/6
4K upconversion and passthrough
Feature packed and futureproof
Minus
Lackluster sonics

THE VERDICT
The futureproof, feature-packed, and easy-to-operate midline DHC-60.5 is a custom installer’s dream, but it falls short on sound quality.

Integra’s new THX Ultra2 Plus–certified DHC-60.5 A/V controller—one of the first to offer HDBaseT connectivity—is clearly intended for the custom install market. But with its generous feature array and ease of operability, the $2,000 midline offering will no doubt also attract its share of retail consumers.

David Vaughn Posted: Apr 10, 2013 17 comments

Emotiva UMC-200 Preamp/Processor
Audio Performance
Video Performance
Features
Ergonomics
Value
 
Price: $599 At A Glance: Audiophile audio quality at a bargain price • Customizable EQ solution • Outstanding value

I’m not an engineer, and no, I don’t play one on TV either, although I’ve been around the A/V business long enough to know the technological challenges manufacturers face when creating a new pre/pro or AVR from the ground up. This is especially hard for smaller companies with limited budgets in an HDMI-enabled world.

Kris Deering Posted: Mar 20, 2013 4 comments
PT-7030 Surround Processor
Audio Performance
Video Performance
Features
Ergonomics
Value
 
PA 7-350 Amplifier
Performance
Features
Ergonomics
Value
Price: PT-7030, $1,799; PA 7-350, $2,799 At A Glance: Audiophile focus • Great dynamics • Lacks some bells and whistles

We’ve all heard the old saying, “less is more”, but that doesn’t always translate well to audio surround processors. While audiophile processors of yesteryear concentrated more on core components for the best possible sound quality and less on crazy surround modes and other digital processing, today’s market seems to demand these features.

David Vaughn Posted: Feb 20, 2013 12 comments

AV8801 Surround Processor
Audio Performance
Video Performance
Features
Ergonomics
Value
 
MM8077 Amplifier
Performance
Features
Ergonomics
Value
Price: AV8801, $3,599; MM8077, $2,399 At a Glance: Up to 11.2-channel playback with Audyssey DSX and DTS Neo:X Audyssey MultEQ XT32 and Sub EQ HT Apple AirPlay support

As A/V enthusiasts, we are constantly on the lookout for the best audio and video we can find, and when we reach that state of nirvana, we enjoy our equipment until the next CES or CEDIA when we then hear about something new and begin to worry that our system will soon be second best. Writing for Home Theater makes me an unwilling accomplice in this never-ending cycle of upgrade-itis, but truth be told, I’m just as affected by this as the rest of you. Thankfully, I’m able to get my fix by having lots of equipment moving through my rack, but every now and then, I fall in love with a piece and don’t want it to leave my possession.

David Vaughn Posted: Jan 08, 2013 3 comments

Outlaw Model 975 Surround Processor
Audio Performance
Video Performance
Features
Ergonomics
Value
 
Price: $549 At A Glance: Audiophile audio quality • Excellent customer service • Meets or exceeds performance of processors costing multiples of its price

Remember the days when being the middleman of a business transaction reaped all kinds of rewards? Times have certainly changed in this regard with the invention of the Internet. The traditional distribution channels for electronics have been reshaped, and businesses that can't adapt—Circuit City, The Good Guys, and many specialty A/V retailers—are either extinct or on the express train to bankruptcy court. I'm talking about you, Best Buy.

How consumers buy electronics has evolved to where Amazon.com is king of the world, but there are some companies out there that are adapting in a different way. Outlaw Audio is a great example of this.

Fred Manteghian Posted: Jan 06, 2013 1 comments

SP3 Surround Processor
Audio Performance
Video Performance
Features
Ergonomics
Value
 
9B SST² Amplifier
Performance
Features
Ergonomics
Value
Price: $17,595 At A Glance: No-compromise musicality in a home theater • Clean and powerful • No-frills design

If you’ve ever spent an afternoon at a big-box store courting eye strain and knee pain comparing the lineup of AVRs, then you’ve doubtless discovered that, superficially at least, the offerings have more in common than not. Sure, the more you spend, the more buzzwords are silk-screened across the front panel, the more HDMI connections you find around back, and, when it comes to power, the more exaggeration you get. One thing about Bryston and power—it’s not within theirs to lie. My first audiophile speakers, Magnepan MG-IIIa speakers, didn’t turn amazing until they met a Bryston 4B amp. If current is what your speakers crave, a Bryston amp could be their best friend.

Kris Deering Posted: May 31, 2012 3 comments

Halo P 7 Multichannel Preamplifier
Performance
Features
Ergonomics
Value
 
A 51 Multichannel Amplifier
Performance
Features
Ergonomics
Value
 
JC 1 Single-Channel Amplifier
Performance
Features
Ergonomics
Value
Price: P 7: $2,000, A 51: $4,500, JC 1: $4,500 At A Glance: Analog-audio-only preamp supports up to seven channels • Flexible hookup options • Halo amps deliver staggering performance

One of the few lessons that was ingrained into me during my time in the Navy was, “Keep it simple.” I admit it wasn’t phrased quite so politically correctly, but the point is still the same. It’s a motto I apply to just about everything I do in my daily life, and when I received the Parasound Halo P 7 multichannel preamplifier ($2,000) for review, it appeared that Parasound sticks to the same philosophy. The strictly analog preamp shrugs off digitaldecoding duties to your source components, shunning any dirty digital processing while providing a high-end, multichannel, analog preamp stage to feed into your amps. With the right front-end source components, this makes for a spectacular two-channel and multichannel listening experience.

Michael Fremer Posted: May 18, 2012 13 comments
Do you dream in surround sound? Since you’re reading this magazine, the answer is probably yes. Psychiatrists say dreaming is good for you. Thumb through any issue of Home Theater and you’re more likely than not to encounter components, systems, and lavish, dedicated rooms equipped with the latest 4K projectors and high-powered, surround-sound systems that most of us can only dream about.
Fred Manteghian Posted: Jan 27, 2012 2 comments

Cinema 12 Surround Processor
Audio Performance
Video Performance
Features
Ergonomics
Value
 
Model 7.125 Amplifier
Performance
Features
Ergonomics
Value
Price: $8,990 At A Glance: Excellent detail and resolution • Music jumps alive • No video processing

Over a decade ago, while writing for a now-defunct audio magazine, my editor shipped me a pair of monoblock Cary tube amps he’d never gotten around to reviewing. Something must have shook loose during transit, because instead of music, all I got when I powered them up was a wisp of smoke as one monoblock sadly committed hara-kiri! The Cary Cinema 12 and Model 7.125 are an eternity of light years away from those fragile forays into bottle socketry. They exude an air of quality and reliability that physically and musically justify their significant price.

Call me weird, but I get excited when I see XLR connectors on my audio gear. Time spent in my fledgling home studio has taught me why pros prefer them. The Cinema 12 offers both single-ended RCA and true, differentially balanced XLR outputs, an arrangement and circuit design mirrored on the Model 7.125 amplifier. The Cinema 12 even offers a pair of stereo analog XLR inputs and a single balanced digital input beyond the roster of seven single-ended analog input pairs. Audio purists will appreciate the fact that you can bypass all digital conversions for your analog sources, including the 7.1 analog input you might use with an SACD player.

Kris Deering Posted: Dec 29, 2011 4 comments

DHC-80.3 Surround Processor
Audio Performance
Video Performance
Features
Ergonomics
Value
 
DTA-70.1 Amplifier
Performance
Features
Ergonomics
Value
Price: $4,400 At A Glance: 4K scaling • Reference-quality video processing • Audyssey MultEQ XT32 ups the ante for room EQ • Nine channels of THX Ultra2 amplification

I don’t know what’s more impressive, the fact that Integra can produce a new state-of-the-art surround processor each year, or that the company can find new audio/video processing modes to add to its already ridiculous list of features. The Integra DHC-80.3 is the latest home run from Integra, with some of the most future-proofing features the company’s delivered yet. I can’t imagine adding much more to a surround processor, but I’m sure Integra will pull some new surprises out of the bag next year.

I’ve reviewed several of the past incarnations of Integra’s A/V processor, but this time up, Integra also sent out its nine-channel THX Ultra2–certified amp, the DTA-70.1. This monster delivers 150 watts per channel and sports balanced inputs and a gorgeous solid-aluminum front panel that matches the DHC-80.3 perfectly.

Michael Fremer Posted: Apr 04, 2011 9 comments

Performance
Features
Ergonomics
Value
Price: $2,700 At A Glance: Receiver priced, separates performance and power • Next-gen Internet connectivity and versatility • Sophisticated sonics, simplified setup

Everybody’s Been Burned

Are you weighed down by a boat anchor of an expensive, powerful, but obsolete A/V receiver that doesn’t have HDMI inputs or processing for the latest lossless audio formats? You’re not alone. Everybody’s been burned by fast-moving technological change. You could unload your boat anchor for a few hundred dollars on eBay or AudiogoN and start over. But should you? Consider that today’s cost-conscious race-to-the-bottom A/V receivers and even some separates seem to be getting cheaper but worse sounding, not better. But if Marantz’s AV7005 surround processor and MM7055 amplifier are as good as the hype suggests, this could be the way to go. And in case of future obsolescence, at least now you’re into separates, which makes upgrades a less pricey proposition.

David Vaughn Posted: Feb 08, 2011 3 comments

Performance
Features
Ergonomics
Value
Price: $1,200 At A Glance: THX Ultra2 Plus certification • Seven HDMI inputs • Dual HDMI outputs • Home network and Internet audio streaming

Four years ago, Integra rocked the A/V world when it released its well-reviewed DTC-9.8 surround processor (HT, May 2008) for an unprecedented price of $1,600. It boasted a bevy of cutting-edge features and was one of the first processors on the market that could decode Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD Master Audio. Since that time, the company hasn’t rested on its laurels. It’s offered yearly upgrades with the DHC-9.9 (HT, July 2009) for $2,000 and DHC-80.1 (HT, May 2010) for $2,300. Each subsequent year, the processor has offered additional improvements to justify the price increase. However, those seeking out separates on a budget were being left behind.

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